Traveling abroad can be a life changing event that is both exciting as well as challenging. In addition to navigating a new culture, students must also adjust to differences in food, language, living arrangements, customs, and support networks. All these new experiences and adjustments can lead to increased stress, anxiety, or disorientation. It is important to keep in mind that this is a part of adapting to a new environment and all students will experience these to some degree. However, if you find that the stress of adjustment becomes excessive or persists over time, please seek help through your on-site contact or through the resources listed below.
Coping with Culture Shock
Many students who travel overseas for extended periods of time experience what is commonly referred to as "culture shock". The term "culture shock" describes the feelings of disorientation, frustration, and anxiety that can come with the challenge of being in a new environment with unfamiliar customs, language, food, housing, etc., and being away from your home environment and supports.
While culture shock is common and normal, it is sometimes hard to recognize in the moment. A large step to coping with culture shock is to recognize common symptoms:
- You develop persistent negative feelings about the people and culture of the host country.
- You regularly feel angry, frustrated, irritable, uncomfortable, or confused.
- You are often tired, bored, unable to concentrate, or find yourself sleeping more than normal.
- You withdraw, spend excessive amounts of time alone, and avoid contact with locals.
Once you have recognized the symptoms of culture shock, you can start to implement coping strategies to help. There are many strategies to assist in coping with culture shock as you adapt to your host community. Different strategies help different people, so it may take some time to find what works for you. Below are a few suggestions:
- Connect and be involved with the community by participating in community activities.
- Find or continue a hobby or activity that you enjoy.
- Maintain a balance between work and leisure time.
- Learn the rules and customs of your host country to better understand the locals in your community.
- Stay connected with friends and family back home.
- Take care of your health by staying active, eating well, and taking time to sleep.
- Do not compare yourself to others. Each person adjusts to a new culture at their own speed and in their own way.
- Learn some of the local language to reduce communication barriers.
- Keep an open mind. Things are not going to be the same as at home, and just because something is different or doesn't make sense to you does not mean it is wrong.